In this morning's coverage of last night's first debate. Two stories interested me. Larry Sabato, that well quoted "expert" on elections said in part
This was not, however, a scintillating debate. Much of the back-and-forth centered on policy disagreements and references (“Dodd-Frank”) that many voters don’t know or, honestly, don’t care about. When debates become a battle of studies versus studies, voters nod off. Perhaps we’re missing something, but it doesn’t seem like, 25 years from now, there will be any moments from this debate included in any reporter’s list of “top five debate moments.”
From my perspective Sabato is wrong on several points. First, while the policy back and forth may not interest a lot of people - it may well galvanize one group of voters to take a more serious look - the undecided. I suspect the comparison between what was spent on green energy and what it could have produced in new teachers - is a comparison that many people will remember. Similarly, as I commented last night, the phrase Trickle Down Government, may well have legs. Second, if Romney seemed more on top of the issues than Obama - that leaves an impression, that if sustained will work against the President. Sabato goes on to suggest that, in essence, debates are not determinative in many elections. But he includes a chart that suggests otherwise. At this point in the election when some voters are beginning to concentrate on the two candidates - first impressions may be very important.
The second article that caught my attention was the CNN analysis. The article presents one part of the CNN post debate poll (which had Romney winning 67-25) - they point out that no candidate has topped 60% since the question was first asked. The responders had a slight bias to republican voters according to the director of the poll. (37% democratic/33% GOP) What amused me in one summary was a story about a place near UC Merced which interviewed students who uniformly were for Obama before the debate and after. Debates are not likely to change the opinions of voters who have decided - except for one thing below. But they do have the possibility of changing the opinions of voters who have not made up their mind. One impact on decided voters comes from enthusiasm. In the 2008 election McCain's performance helped to turn down turnout for his candidacy.
From my perspective there is a lot of time for either candidate to make a gaffe - the election is far from decided. But from reading both the Twitter feeds and the columns this morning - Mr. Romney far exceeded expectations.
One final comment - some on the left have argued that Jim Lehrer was an ineffective moderator. That is utter nonsense. What Lehrer did, which many moderators do not do, is to encourage the two participants to engage on a substantive basis. The response by the left was to "fact check" some of Romney's claims. Indeed the President in Denver today, claimed Romney was stretching the truth. But as I have commented before a lot of the "fact checkers" are simply arguing that Romney's interpretation of issues or events does not conform to the President's interpretation.